Sheriffs: New state gun law needs changes
TRI-COUNTY AREA—Area sheriffs are questioning portions of New York State’s new gun regulations, while at the same time supporting other measures in the law.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE Act) was enacted Jan. 15. According to the state, the provisions go into effect April 15. The new law was reviewed at last week’s New York State Sheriff’s Conference in Albany, and a response was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The overall reaction, which was voiced by Yates, Schuyler, and Steuben County Sheriffs, is that changes need to be made.
Yates Sheriff Ron Spike explained some parts of the law need clarification. He said he is not sure how the seven round capacity limit affects law enforcement officials. Spike added this is something Cuomo and the legislature are reviewing. The new law limits magazines to seven rounds, down from the previous 10 rounds.
“I’d like to see the research behind this. Is it going to make communities safer?” said Spike. “A bad guy is not going to count up to seven and stop.”
The sheriffs also questioned the expanded ban on assault weapons. The state changed the definition of assault weapons to include semiautomatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and one military-style feature, as well as semiautomatic shotguns with one military-style feature. Assault weapons possessed before the effective date must be registered within a year of April 15.
Steuben County Sheriff Dave Cole said “many shotguns, used every day for legitimate and legal purposes will be considered illegal now.” He explained that the new classifications do not make the guns, now considered assault weapons, any more lethal. Cole also questioned the implementation of the new registration process.
Spike added the sheriff’s office and the county clerk are already involved in registration. He suggested that these departments continue to handle registration and give the information to the state police rather than have it done at the state level. Spike pointed out the law also puts the state in charge of reviewing school safety. He explained again that the sheriff’s department already works with school districts to create safety plans.
“There’s no need for redundancy,” said Spike.
One overall concern is how quickly the regulations were adapted. Schuyler Sheriff Bill Yessman explained the appropriate parties were not adequately included in the creation of the restrictions. He explained the state sheriff association was approached about assault weapons, but not in regards to what constitutes one.
“It was passed so fast they have to make corrections,” said Yessman. “If they didn’t get it right, they didn’t get the input they needed.”
The sheriff’s association added that “the governor has shown himself open to working with interested parties to address some of the problems that arose due to the hasty enactment of this law.”
At the same time, the sheriffs also agreed with parts of the SAFE Act. Spike said, “there are many provisions within (the law) that will enhance public safety.” He indicated the Webster Provision as one. Under the legislation, murder of a first responder becomes a Class A-1 felony, with a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole.
Cole said his office has no issues with the increased penalties for gun crimes. The sheriff’s association added “first responders need this protection.”
The law also requires mental health professionals to report when there is reason to believe a patient is likely to harm themselves or others. The state explains this information will be included in the gun registration database. If the patient possesses a gun, the license will be suspended and law enforcement will be authorized to remove the person’s firearm.
Spike added mental health care needs to be increased. He explained “jail is usually the last place the mentally ill get help.” The sheriff’s association said this issue needs much more discussion and they will pursue that with the governor.
The sheriffs also addressed the implementation of the new law. Spike explained, “we will not go door-to-door confiscating weapons.” He said all law enforcement officials took an oath to uphold the Constitution and represent all people.